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New coronavirus variant and holiday gatherings raise experts’ fears of COVID spike

Increased air travel is one reason infectious disease experts are worried coming out of the holiday season.
Increased air travel is one reason infectious disease experts are worried coming out of the holiday season.

MIAMI – After the nightclub parties, after family get-togethers over the holidays, and after the tourists leave town following pandemic-high travel, infectious disease experts fear the inevitable:

“There’s going to be another increase in the number of [coronavirus] cases because of all this holiday travel and interaction,” says Dr. Aileen Marty of Florida International University.

More than 53,000 new coronavirus cases have already been confirmed in Florida over the first days of 2021.

In what has become a familiar practice, hospitals will have their surge plans ready in the coming days and weeks.

And experts like Marty will be keeping an eye on hospitalizations.

“It still has a huge impact on the entire health care system. It won’t just impact the people who have COVID. It is going to impact the people who have heart attacks, who have car accidents,” she said. “It is going to make it harder for you to visit your loved one in a hospital even if what they have is not COVID.”

A rise in coronavirus cases is seen as inevitable based on the amount of travel that was done over the holidays, not to mention scenes of crowds and parties.
A rise in coronavirus cases is seen as inevitable based on the amount of travel that was done over the holidays, not to mention scenes of crowds and parties.

While doses of COVID-19 vaccines are arriving in limited supply, the general public is not anticipated to have access to shots until perhaps the spring.

“We have to grin and bear it for a little while longer until all of us in our community and our world have our two doses of vaccine given at the appropriate time,” Marty said, “so we don’t end up with a long-term complication from having had COVID-19, which so many people are having, or, even worse, death.”

A more contagious variant of COVID-19 has reached Florida, raising a new worry, particularly as people gather in ways that can lead to rampant community spread.

“Policies that permit the spread also facilitate the development of new variants, which can be more deadly or more contagious or more difficult to treat or cause more complications,” Marty said. “We have got to stop transmission and we all have to take responsibility.”

It also raises the question of whether the vaccine will cover a variant of COVID-19.

Marty says the vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna may be well suited to tackle the UK variant that has now been detected in Martin County. She said studies comparing the blood from people who have recovered from the original strain with the variant show that those who developed good antibodies had antibodies that also seem to neutralize the new strain.

“Based on that, we are pretty confident that the vaccines currently, with the current new variant from the UK, will still be very effective,” she said. “We have to do studies with the people who have had the vaccines to be 100% certain about that, but it looks very, very good since we already know that these vaccines are producing a better quality immunity than even that from having had the virus.”

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About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."